WASHINGTON — A long-awaited report by the Justice Department’s inspector general released on Monday sharply criticized the F.B.I.’s handling of a wiretap application used in the early stages of its Russia investigation but exonerated former bureau leaders of President Trump’s accusations that they engaged in a politicized conspiracy to sabotage him.
Investigators uncovered “no documentary or testimonial evidence” of political bias behind official actions related to the investigation, known as Crossfire Hurricane, said the report, which totaled more than 400 pages. The F.B.I. had sufficient evidence in July 2016 to lawfully open the investigation, and its use of informants to approach campaign aides followed procedures, the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, determined.
But Mr. Horowitz also uncovered substantial dysfunction, carelessness and serious errors in one part of the sprawling inquiry: the F.B.I.’s applications for court orders approving a wiretap targeting Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser with ties to Russia, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. He found that one low-ranking F.B.I. lawyer altered a related document and referred the lawyer for possible prosecution.
Given the highly fraught context of investigating someone linked to a presidential campaign, the report said, the Crossfire Hurricane investigators knew their work would be scrutinized — yet they nevertheless “failed to meet the basic obligation to ensure that the Carter Page FISA applications were ‘scrupulously accurate.’”
The findings on the wiretap application showed that when it mattered most — with the stakes the greatest and no room for error — F.B.I. officials still made numerous and serious mistakes in wielding a powerful surveillance tool. Mr. Horowitz’s discovery calls into question the bureau’s surveillance practices in routine cases without such high-stakes political implications.
The exhaustive report by an independent official is likely to stand as a definitive accounting of the F.B.I.’s actions in the early stages of the Russia investigation, and it suggests a complex impact. By debunking conservative conspiracy theories yet sharply criticizing law enforcement actions that have not been the subject of public debate, Mr. Horowitz’s mixed findings may offer vindication for both critics and allies of Mr. Trump.
Signs have emerged that Mr. Trump and his allies may try to reject the findings they dislike. In recent days, associates of Attorney General William P. Barr have let it be known that he is skeptical of Mr. Horowitz’s expected conclusion that officials had a proper and lawful basis to open the Russia investigation.
On Monday, Mr. Barr praised Mr. Horowitz’s work but excoriated the F.B.I. investigation, saying the bureau’s “malfeasance and misfeasance” detailed in the report reflected a “clear abuse” of the wiretap application process.